Angela Beeching's Creative Productivity Challenge / by Anne Lanzilotti

Earlier this month, Angela Beeching hosted a Creative Productivity Challenge. I was unable to join the live sessions, so I decided to do them out of time this week to boost me into a productive winter break. If you don't know Beeching's work, her wonderful book Beyond Talent is my go to resource for everything from concert planning, to teaching resumes, to tax deductions. As she says, "The time to do your best creative work is now." So, let's jump right in!

Day 1: Creativity Habits

The first day focused on five creative habits for getting work done, or as I like to think of it, dissertation-flashback. Listening to her talk about creative habits prompted me to find this little piece of paper, which I have saved even though it has long outlived its purpose.

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It reminds me of many late afternoons sitting out on the fire escape reading chapters out-loud and making corrections in blue pen. While I had to adjust slightly, I successfully turned in the full draft to my advisor by the end of the year so I'd have time to do revisions. As clear from the above photo, several of the habits Beeching mentioned—time blockingdividing & conquering, and backwards planning—were essential to getting all of it done on time.

My main reset for 2018? Working distraction free! As a commitment to this—and at Beeching's suggestion—I just bought an alarm clock that is not my phone! I recently moved and am finally starting to find a routine in my new home, and I'd for love that routine to be one that helps me move forward with my longterm projects. For more ideas on creative habits to get work done, listen to the entire Day 1 session here.

Day 2: Self-Messaging

This session focuses on negative self-talk, or what Beeching calls, "The Festival of Self-Loathing." Beeching wrote a wonderful post on thought distortions this summer, and she goes deeper in this session. Listening to it reminded me of Rebecca Solnit's idea that we always act in the dark:

. . . I argued that you don't know if your actions are futile; that you don't have the memory of the future; that the future is indeed dark, which is the best thing it could be; and that, in the end, we always act in the dark. The effects of your actions may unfold in ways you cannot force or even imagine. They may unfold long after your death. That is when the words of so many writers often resonate most.

I love that Beeching talks so much about curiosity and experimentation as the midpoint to get back to being in a place of creative flow. In fact, I watched this session twice to hear it more clearly and challenge myself to answer the questions she asks. She mentions briefly that walking helps her, which I have also found essential. Moving through physical space helps me to move forward in mental space. And honestly, walking is the only thing that consistently works to get me to reset if I'm feeling truly stuck. (In fact, half of the works on my album Wanderweg use field recordings from these walks.) The final exercise Beeching details, "grateful flow," you should experience for yourself as a part of the Day 2 session here.

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Day 3: Purpose

In this session, Beeching tries to help people focus on defining the core of their work, and the impact they want to make with their music. Beeching often helps clients to find this for specific projects, but she adds, "Whether you write it in your promotional materials or just know it for yourself, it matters." She talks about the immediate goal of a project versus the larger impact or change we want to make. Beeching calls this, "Know your WHY."

The rigor that Beeching speaks about rings true in every session: that committing to doing consistent work, and having habits/rituals to get you into that work can help to boost motivation, creativity, and access to what many artists refer to as "flow." The way that she uses the Hero's Journey to help someone figure out where they are in their process is wonderful. Listen to the entire Day 3 session here.

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Day 4: Process

As a slight change for this session, I'll answer the big questions that Beeching sets forth at the beginning of this session page:

How do we allow for the playful, exploratory, and experimental part of the process as well as for the critical, and analytical part? About two years ago, I started to incorporate improvisation into my practice, recording it so that I could use that material to compose. It was a way for me to spend more hours in the sound world of playful experimentation.

What’s your process like and how do expectations factor in? I have a system for practicing the viola now that works for me that has to do with timed focused sessions and timed restful breaks. Focused practice is meditative for me, and I think improvising and composing opened up my practice in a new way to helping me approach the instrument with a relaxed, connected technique. I realized listening to Beeching talk about expectations that I have the unhealthy expectation that I should be able to practice without breaks, that I should be able to work harder always. So for me, using the timer for daily practice in combination with really big longterm projects gives me motivation to put in the time and the wisdom to take time for slow, practice really listening to sound.

What tools or approaches help you to “ship” the work—to complete your work and get it out in the world? Deadlines, pure and simple. I've gotten better at knowing how long I need and then planning ahead. That way, I am giving myself the time to work at my pace and turn out good work.

Beeching emphasizes in this session to keep doing creative work, and that the process of exploration and discovery will help the individual be able to "offer that generously to the world." Listen to the whole session on creative process here.

Day 5: Confidence

The last day of the Creative Productivity Challenge is about confidence. Beeching says, "Confidence doesn't come before you do something ambitious, it's the result of having done the ambitious thing." She talks about how confidence is not a static state, but rather part of a process within the flow of commitmentcouragecapability, and confidence.

I'm working on a commission right now that I had a strong concept for immediately. I was hesitating to execute the concept because I wasn't sure if I would be able to record the sound I wanted, and if I botched it then I worried it would make the whole concept seem ridiculous. So, I decided to go full in: I made a deadline by asking the amazing recording engineer at my University to reserve hours to record, and told him exactly what we would be doing: recording the sound of rice paper sculptures. Having the appointment and having an expert who showed me respect and took me seriously allowed me to focus completely and really experiment and play with the sounds I wanted in the studio.

So I would add to this last session, confidence is not only about process for me, but about working with others who also show that commitment, courage, and capability so that there is playful and inquisitive confidence, not posturing. Surrounding yourself with people who enrich your process is so essential, and allows for you to be creative and not let anything get in your way. Listen to the other tips for increasing creative confidence in the whole session here.

It was great being able to work through these sessions, and to use this post as an accountability tool for myself. If you're reading this, I encourage you to do the Creative Productivity Challenge yourself. It's never too late to start!